Reviews

Jughead Comes Out in 'Jughead #4'

The reveal of Jughead's sexuality made headlines. How does this affect his plans for school sabotage?


Jughead

Publisher: Archie Comics
Length: 32 Pages
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Price: #3.99
Contributors: Erica Henderson (illustrator)
Publication Date: 2016-02
Amazon

With the recent Archie madness storming the media, such as Mark Waid’s reboot of the titular series, news of a supposed musical written by The Big Short director Adam McKay, and the now in-production television series Riverdale, Archie’s best friend Jughead was sure to return to limelight. With the fourth issue of Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s new series Jughead, however, the whoopee-cap wearing troublemaker made headlines for reasons all his own: as perhaps the first openly asexual character in comics. While the issue itself does little in addressing Jughead’s sexuality besides a casual mention, the reveal opens a door to a whole new approach to teen fiction, making this issue of Jughead a milestone.

The reveal of Jughead’s sexuality will come as no surprise to any long-time reader of Archie, as Jughead was asexual before anyone even knew what asexuality was. Since his inception, the character has been famously dismissive of Archie and the Riverdale gang’s romantic follies and pursuits, instead focusing on his own priorities of mischief and food, with the regular dose of imparted wisdom on his friends and peers.

These qualities have, thankfully, been maintained over the course of Jughead’s new series, as he’s quickly made an enemy of the new school administration at Riverdale High, run by Principal Stanger, Mr. Weatherbee’s recent replacement. Convinced of something more sinister at play, with questionable new additions to the curriculum like drone building and army obstacle courses, Jughead has embarked on a personal campaign to uncover what’s rotten in Denmark. The only problem is he’s the only person who believes it.

The issue opens with Jughead running through his theory with Archie and friends, culminating in his final conclusion: that Riverdale has become a training ground for secret agents. This goes over as well as anyone would expect, as the gang takes off, convinced Jughead is off his rocker from all his down time during his suspension. Jughead decides he’ll need to prove to his friends what’s going on behind the scenes.

Returning to school the next day, Jughead talks with Kevin Keller about the recent rise in suspensions from school, with Kevin lamenting how it’s significantly narrowed his romantic options, given his status as one of five or so gay men at Riverdale. The conversation between Kevin and Jughead is when the bombshell about Jughead’s sexuality is dropped, with Kevin casually mentioning that “you just don’t get it because you’re asexual”, and Jughead acknowledging that this is what keeps his head clear, as he’s not “hobbled by hormonal impulses”.

As far as reveals in comics go, this is rather tame, but nevertheless important. While Jughead’s stories have always deviated from Archie’s in focusing on non-romantic narratives, to actually have the character come out as asexual is a milestone. For a sexuality that, like bisexuality, is so often disbelieved and misunderstood, to have a character officially classified as such opens the possibility for a proper representation of this side of the romantic spectrum. Within a genre as sexually-charged as teen fiction, a by product of an even more sexually charged American culture, Jughead’s coming out could represent a completely different and informative approach not only to teen narratives, but to comic narratives in general.

It’s a shame, then, that this conversation is the only mention of Jughead’s sexuality. While a tame reveal is a refreshing approach to such a coming out (in an ideal world, coming out would be as simple as this), the revelation is so intriguing that it’s hard to become fully engaged in the rest of the comic’s story. The next six or seven pages are taken up by one of Jughead’s characteristic fantasies: dreaming of being a pirate while in the midst of a dodgeball game.

While amusing, the fantasy drags on for a little too long, and might have been funnier if brief, especially since the rest of the story is a return to Jughead’s campaign against the school administration. Teaming up with computer whiz, Dilton, the two decide to plug a “mirror switch” into the school’s computer mainframe so they can actively observe the activity of Stanger’s desktop monitor.

In a scene of nigh-Ocean’s 11 strategy, Jughead narrates his plan to get into the office as the comic shows it unfolding the next day. This involves giving Stanger’s receptionist a lunch coupon at the local “Pop’s” ice cream parlor to get her out of the office, and volunteering Archie for repairing bleachers with the knowledge he’ll cause a disaster (which he does), thereby causing Stanger to go deal with the mess, which allows Dilton to get into the office. As a contingency when Stanger returns too quickly, Jughead then texts muscle-bound star athlete Moose Mason that he saw their mutual friend Reggie hitting on Moose’s girlfriend, Midge. This throws Moose into a rage just as Stanger is passing him, causing Stanger to pursue Moose down the hallway.

The sheer hilarity of the scene stems from just how absurdly predictive and calculating Jughead can be, to the point that one could imagine the Mission Impossible theme playing to this storyline. The plot is clearly a reminder of how, despite his clownishness, Jughead has always been Riverdale High’s unrecognized genius, and an unparalleled profiler of the inner workings of the school and its residents.

The comic ends with Jughead and friends back in Dilton’s room that evening, waiting to see the fruits of their labor. Just as Dilton’s switch comes online, the gang is treated to a cryptic message on their screen, simply reading “Hello Mr. Jones.” Despite the shock, everyone seems to agree on one thing: there’s no way your everyday average school administration would have this kind of tracking capability. They realize Jughead’s right: something’s afoot in Riverdale High.

Jughead #4 is another enjoyable installment of the adventures of the Archie universe’s most famous saboteur. Zdarsky and Henderson imbue the comic with all the light-hearted fun and humor the series has provided for years, both in the character’s conversations and the school background (e.g., a history textbook cover reads, “World History: Why America is Always Right”). While the reveal of Jughead’s sexuality falls to the wayside to continue the overarching narrative, this issue of Jughead hopefully opens the door to future stories told with a more insightful, and asexual perspective. Even if not, the Jughead fans know and love is still here.

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